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Of Mice and Transsexuals

BCC undergrad Haezell Alison Claudius presents a sociological film review on Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica.

This film review is based on gender stratification. Both these movies have one very prominent factor – both the leads in each movie are transsexuals. Macionis explains that transsexuals are people who feel they are one sex even though biologically they are the other (2009). Because they don’t fit into the female or male category, they are ostracized. Gender is the personal traits and social positions that members of society attach to being female or male (Macionis, 2009).

In Boys Don’t Cry, the lead, Brendan was someone who was born biologically as a girl but felt as a male. Hence, he does what it takes to act like a man to seek acceptance as a guy. For example, when asked why he got involved with the dangerous car stunts repeatedly, he replied “Because, I thought that’s what guys do around here”. Also, in the movie Brendan (who doesn’t have the physical strength of a man) got into a fight with a man much bigger and stronger than him because that is what a man would do in Brendan’s opinion. This shows that he is trying to adapt to what society’s perception of the male gender is. Also, when he hangs out with John, he tries to adapt to what the guys in that community do since gender roles can differ in different cultures.

In Transamerica, the lead, Bree was born a male but feels that she is a woman and intends on changing her body to fit that category. She does this in hopes that society would accept her as a real woman. This is also why besides dressing and acting like a woman she took hormones so that she could develop breasts. In the movie, when an 8-year-old asked her if she was a man or a woman she felt heartbroken that even a child couldn’t identify her as what she wants to be – a woman. She believes that the vaginoplastly will change that although people wouldn’t actually know that she has female body parts.

The difference between these two movies shows how the male and female gender should act respectively. In Boys Don’t Cry, it was about being tough and brave in your attitude. Although, he didn’t undergo any operation he has a fake penis to help him feel more like a man as well as make love as a man. In the movie, he makes love to Lana as a man using his fake penis. In Transamerica however, it is about going through a sex change to prove her womanhood. This is where the hormones and vaginoplastly comes into play.

In Boys Don’t Cry, when John and Tom found out Brendan was biologically female, they raped and physically abused her. This is because they know that Brendan is weak. This is fundamentally about power and not sexual desire. This is a fact, because they thought Brendan was a guy, they weren’t sexually attracted to him nor did they physically abuse him. However, the night they find out he’s biologically a woman; they raped Brendan although he looks the same as when they thought he was a guy. They also did this because he lied about his sex and that he was different. Being a transsexual in their opinion is wrong and therefore he didn’t truly deserve to be treated as a human being.

In Transamerica, Bree wasn’t accepted by her mother. She was embarrassed by her daughter as can be seen when she didn’t want the neighbours to see her when she came outside the house. She even thought Bree being a transsexual; she can’t take good care of Toby which is why she tried to bribe Bree with money so that Toby can stay with his grandmother. The grandmother even hired private detectives to find out what’s wrong with Bree as well as have her committed. She probably acted this way because she desperately wanted a son and when she got one, he the son didn’t act like a man. This can be seen when she says “I miss my son” at the dinner table.

Toby on the other hand was sexually harassed by his stepfather and this affected him on a deep level as he became a male prostitute. He even tried to seduce Bree when he didn’t know that she was his father. When he needed the money, due to his past, he believed that this was the easiest way to make money but why a prostitute for men when he is not gay (confirmed straight because was asked to take Viagra when shooting a gay porno film)? This is because when he was younger, being harassed by a man made him think that he is desirable towards men and he took advantage of the situation since there a fewer guys who want to have sex with other guys. Also, he sees men as a force of higher power which is why he doesn’t mind doing what other guys tell him to do sexually.

The difference between both movies was that Boys Don’t Cry focused on violence towards the lead and his sexuality. In Transamerica, the director tried to show how even your own family will discriminate you when you are part of a queer. They also show how genders in each family could affect a child’s psychology.

In Boys Don’t Cry, the director uses a social-conflict approach, as this approach states that gender involves differences not just in behaviour but in power as well. This approach highlights that gender benefits men and disadvantages women. This is shown in the movie when Brendan was a man, nobody bullied him physically and he behaved like a man as well. But, when they found out he was biologically a woman, they raped and physically abused him. Kimberly Pierce, the director and writer for this movie is a prominent feminist and is openly gay. Probably because she might have faced some sort of discrimination in her life being a lesbian, when she read about the true story of Brendan Teena, she decided to make a movie out of it so that people will be aware of how brutal society could be towards transsexuals and maybe they could have a sense of what is it like to be discriminated.

“Duncan Tucker the director for Transamerica finally hit his stride when he met a woman-really a man trying to become a woman-who helped give the shiftless Tucker purpose and while listening to her stories – comic, tragic; sometimes both – Tucker suddenly found inspiration to make a feature film” (Yahoo Movies). This resulted in Transamerica and he found his life’s direction. Therefore, Tucker wanted to tell a story from the perspective of the woman who gave him purpose in life. He is a social conflictist in telling his story as he highlights there are people who benefit from transsexuals. In Transamerica, the director shows that therapists and the medical department benefit from it. Therapists are needed for emotional support for example when Bree has problems she turns to her psychiatrists.  Medical departments benefit since the operation for the sex change as what Bree went through costs a fortune. He also highlights that drug dealers benefits from prostitution which is seen when the officer explains to Bree that most prostitutes do drugs.

The difference is that Duncan Tucker doesn’t reflect his personal approach into the film instead it is about someone who changed his life whereas for Pierce, it is telling a true story which she probably has personal approaches towards since she knows how it feel like to be in the queer.

Transsexuals may know which gender they choose to be however, society doesn’t have a gender for them to be specifically put into. Therefore, they go on a quest to do what they can to be accepted as their desired gender. Clearly, this is a journey both movies try to illustrate

 

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